All posts by Jacques Berlinerblau


What Is Secular Art?

Ever since I was in graduate school, I have lamented the inability of scholars to solicit and engage with cultivated lay audiences. With that in mind, I invite you to check out this video, part of a series I have been making which streams on the British New Humanist (a really interesting and intellectually diverse magazine of skeptical thought) and the good ol’ Huffington Post.

I envisioned this series as a sort of “Secularism 101.” I felt that it was necessary because my study of the subject d…


What Is Ross Douthat Thinking?

Ross DouthatLet me be start by saying that I like and respect New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. I had the pleasure of interviewing him a few years back on Faith Complex. Although we disagreed on nearly everything under the sun, he was thoughtful, generous of intellect, and quite funny.

With that preamble rendered, I am simply staggered by his recent head-scratcher of an Op-Ed entitled “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” It’s worthy of scrutiny because it raises the volume considerably in the already…


Is the Rick Warren Event a No-Go?

Politico reported on July 17 that campaign officials deny that there will be any repeat this year of Rick Warren’s 2008 Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. It is not clear from the report whether these officials hale from the Romney or Obama camps (or both).

It’s the only news item of its kind that I have seen, so I am a bit confused (see my subsequent post of July 19 on the matter). Most news agencies are still reporting that the event is on the books. If–and at present it’s a big if–Warr…


Dear Pastor Rick Warren: Thank You, You’ve Done Enough

Fox News is reporting that Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren is planning a reprise of his 2008 Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. I would urge those in both the Obama and Romney camps to skip this event. I truly hope that a 2012 get-together does not come to pass.

I say this not only because the idea of a sectarian cleric religious-testing American presidential candidates is deeply problematic on Church/State grounds. (Will rabbis, Roman Catholic priests, imams and atheist chaplains be grant…


Who Is the Smartest, Importantest, Eruditest Professor on Campus?

It goes without saying that every single professor on every single college campus is brilliant and crucial to the institution’s mission. This truism does, however, leave unanswered an essential question: Which type of professor is the brilliantest and crucialest of them all?

Many are the candidates for this designation—for, as I just noted, ours is a guild that will not countenance mediocrity in any form. Yet certain sorts of scholars simply stand out, even by the lofty standards that prevail …


What is Secular Humanistic Judaism?

According to an important 2001 survey, 44 percent of American Jews by religion claimed to be “secular,” or “somewhat secular.” I repeat: 44 percent!

The next religious group to embrace the “secular” designation with as much verve, were Buddhists at 22 percent (which could make sense when you consider the Dalai Llama’s views on secularism, see his recent book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.)

Yet the question remains: What does it mean to be a secular Jew? Having studied the phenomeno…


Abraham Lincoln is Weeping; Thomas Jefferson is Smiling

Dear readers: I was trading pedagogical notes over lunch with my Georgetown colleague Matthew Lambert when he mentioned in passing an interview he had conducted with then ex-, now present, University of Virginia president, Teresa Sullivan as part of a larger project he was working on. I told him that I might know some people who were interested in hearing about that and asked him to contribute this post. Which he graciously did.


“Abraham Lincoln is weeping today.”

What could possibly make th…


Memo to Pepco: Are You Freakin’ Kidding Me??!

Downed tree in DC

Photo courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks

Out of absolutely nowhere this past Friday night, a severe derecho or “land hurricane” of some meteorological unusualness hit D.C. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians have no electricity–again (see below)–in inferno-like conditions, where the temperature outside is at or around 100 degrees.

Our friends at Pepco, the region’s electricity provider, casually informed us that 90 percent of its customers’ power should be restored by Ju…


The USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom (Part I)

USCBB Prayer for the Protection of Religious LibertyThe United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is now one week deep into its “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. As you may know, this activism has emerged as a protest against the Obama administration’s HHS mandates.

The health-care mandates–requiring most insurance providers to cover contraception for women free of charge in their health plans–have been understood by the bishops to be a massive violation of Catholic religious freedom. Of course,  the success of this campaign hinges on the bis…


When the Academic Left and the Academic Right Unite

Girls Lean Back Everywhere by Edward de GraziaIn previous posts, I have, with very jerky semaphore strokes, signaled my difficulties with scholarly or even spiritual work that aspires to be either “liberal” or “conservative.” Professors, I submit, should reevaluate their life choices if either designation is too readily (and accurately) applied to their research.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that being a “centrist” is Sole Proper Positionality for a Professor (though, quite frankly, we really could use a few more centrists here in Washingt…


Why So Little Religious Politicking in This Presidential Election?

Don't wait for Romney to bring up religion. (Photo by Austen Hufford via Flickr/CC)

Four years and nine days ago today, Barack Obama stunned (uninitiated) analysts at a campaign stop in Zanesville Ohio with the announcement that if elected he would retain George W. Bush’s much-maligned Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. It would become “a critical part” of his administration, said the junior senator from Illinois.

Some liberals were shocked. They shouldn’t have been. As the current…


Defending Durkheim (the Hipster)

Weirder than you think


A few days back my Brainstorm colleague Laurie Essig drew an analogy between contemporary sociologist Mark Regnerus and Holy Trinity sociologist Émile Durkheim (as in the triune god of early social theory, Marx-Weber-Durkheim).

“I suppose,” she wrote, “every generation of sociology is doomed to have its Durkheim, and Mark Regnerus is quickly becoming ours.”

It is obvious that Professor Essig in that short piece was mostly concerned with questions having nothing to do wit…


Professors and Children, Part 3

Berlinerblau HockeyAs part of our ongoing series investigating the unique and complex texture of professors’ relations with their own children, I submit the following remarks–remarks which defy closure in the form of a concluding paragraph.

Thing that my child did that I liked:  On Saturday, the hockey player one scored a pretty nice goal.  True, he was totally poaching/cherry-picking the opposition’s net. Yet given the unremarkable history of Jewish excellence in hockey, we’ll take it any way we can get it.



Philip Roth’s Next Book and Biography: What’s Going On?

You, Roth, are the least completely rendered of all your protagonists. . . My guess is that you’ve written metamorphoses of yourself so many times, you no longer have any idea what you are or ever were. But now what you are is a walking text.

–Nathan Zuckerman to “Philip Roth” in The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography

(Photo of Philip Roth from Click on photo to go to site of origin.)

When I first heard a few years back that an authorized biography of Philip Roth was being undertaken by…


Praising Our Seniors

For the first time ever in the history of this column, I am going to gloat. Yesterday was the Program for Jewish Civilization‘s sixth annual presentation of senior theses and the work our students did made me truly proud. I mean, proud in the way that one sighs, “Oh, this is why I became a professor. ‘Cuz I was sort of forgetting there. But now it’s OK. Now I remember.”

This is the set up: The seniors spend the better part of the year researching and writing a thirty-page thesis on anything rel…


The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Again?

"A campaign playbook by high-profile Republican strategists," says The New York Times. Click on image to get to the Times story.

On the front page of this morning’s New York Times, above the fold, there appeared a curious story entitled “G.O.P. ‘Super-Pac’ Weighing a Hard-Line Attack on Obama.”

The story focuses on a 54-page advertising plan that somehow dropped into the Times‘ outstretched hands “through a person not connected to the proposal who was alarmed by its tone.”  The financial force …


Nigeria, Boko Haram, the Massacre of Christians, and Oil

No, no civil war. I’m an optimist,” observes my colleague, the anthropologist and Georgetown School of Foreign Service Professor Gwendolyn Mikell.

Dr. Mikell is here reflecting on the recent explosion of sectarian strife in Nigeria–strife which is often understood by analysts in the Western media as predicated on ethno-religious conflict between the Muslim north and Christian south.

The treacherous headline grabber in all of this has been the jihadist group Boko Haram. This fundamentalist Isla…


Romney Takes Care of Business at Liberty University

Addressing the 2012 graduating class of Liberty University today Mitt Romney enthused: “[W]hat the next four years might hold for me is yet to be determined.  But I will say that things are looking up, and I take your kind hospitality today as a sign of good things to come.”

Things are looking up, especially after Barack Obama’s evolving views on same-sex marriage look like they are about to send fence-sitting conservative Christians charging into Romney’s arms.

So the presumptive GOP nominee’s …


Obama to the Christian Right (Nervously): It’s On!

President Obama told ABC news yesterday that on the subject of same-sex marriage he has been “going through an evolution on this issue.”

He may indeed be going through an intellectual evolution in his thinking about the rights of gay people to marry. His recent remarks indicate that he has undergone a theological evolution as well. Recall that Obama cast his new-found stance on this issue as a reflection of his Christian scruples (a point I hope to explore in greater detail forthwith).

But perm…


Mormon Identity in the Age of Mitt Romney

About 30 seconds before Professor Matthew Bowman of Hampden-Sydney College sat down for an interview with me, I whispered to him:

Matthew, this interview is not for our colleagues in the American Academy of Religion. It’s not for the specialists that we write for in our scholarly publications. It’s for intelligent people everywhere, who will benefit from the breadth of your knowledge on this subject. So keep it real!

And keep it real he did.

With his inner wonk summoned, validated, and released…